Accusing the Congress of painting Aadhaar as a curse, the government today asserted that no poor person would be deprived of the subsidy benefits by making the Aadhaar mandatory and that privacy of individuals will be protected.
Minister of IT and Law Ravi Shankar Prasad stated this in the Rajya Sabha while replying to a discussion on Aadhaar against the backdrop of concerns expressed by the opposition over making the biometric-based identification system mandatory for availing of government subsidies.
“I want to make it very clear on the behalf of the government that no poor shall be denied his subsidy rights at all. Be very clear about that. Whether it is, a mid day meal or any other benefit, we have said that you come on Aadhaar but no denial will be there,” he assured the House.
“The right of privacy of individual must be respected... The question to be considered is, are we invading privacy through the Aadhaar law, the answer is ‘No’,” he said.
Observing that at present, over 113 crore residents in India have Aadhaar, Prasad said that “Aadhaar is safe, let me say proudly that the data is secure”.
He said that in the last six years, the government has cancelled and blacklisted 34,000 operators who tried to pollute the system or tried to make fake Aadhaar cards.
“Since December 2016, we have taken action against 1,000 operators. We have a proper oversight system available which we do at all the authority at our command,” he said.
Accusing the Congress of trying to paint Aadhaar as a curse, Prasad outlined several benefits associated with it.
“You need to come on Aadhaar but the benefits will not be denied to you, you can come with alternative identity proof be it ration card, MNREGA Card, driving licnse or others. But please apply for Aadhaar, that is the whole essence,” he said.
“Fake bank accounts is a known phenomena. We cannot wish away that poor people have lost their savings. So these realities are known,” Prasad said.
To back his assertion of Aadhaar data being secure, the Law minister reasoned that minimum data is collected by the authorities, and information related to an individual’s religion, caste, language, medical history or ethnicity is not profiled.
“Let me outline minimum data is being taken for preparation of Aadhaar card, the authorities are under strict instructions to maintain that secrecy and if they flout they can also suffer three years of imprisonment and prosecution,” the Law Minister argued.
Pointing out that national security is important, he said that even in cases of national security, a high-level mechanism has been put in place whereby a designated officer of the Home Ministry shall for reasons to be recorded in writing certify disclosure of a person’s Aadhaar data.
Further, he said that a committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary will ascertain and confirm that a person’s Aadhaar data needs to be disclosed in such cases.
“This is the kind of safeguards we have given that the biometrics of an ordinary person even in case of national security cannot be opened unless certified by this level of higher authorities,” Prasad said.
The Law minister categorically denied claims of the NATGRID (National Intelligence Grid) being linked to Aadhaar.
Referring to the two interim orders passed by the Supreme Court on August 11, 2015 and October 15, 2015, permitting a set of subsidies to be given through Aadhaar, Prasad outlined that there was no Aadhaar legislation in place at the time.
“Legally speaking, the law is well settled that Parliament can remove the lacuna which the court points out and if one of the arguments in the court is that there is no legal framework available, the Parliament has come up with the Aadhar Act,” he said.
Referring to a recent CAG report which had found that 92 per cent of the savings in LPG subsidy was due to fall in global crude oil prices and not due to Aadhaar seeding, Prasad termed it a “sketchy report”.
“I very seriously respect the institution of CAG but the CAG has got no mechanism to make a comment that this saving is only due to the lowering of the international crude oil prices. This is too judgemental, not factual,” the minister said.